SAMOAN SURVIVORS TELL OF STARVATION AT SEA

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PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (November 12, 2001 - Post-Courier/PINA Nius Online)---Two Samoans rescued after being adrift at sea for 132 days told their Papua New Guinea rescuers two other fishermen died of starvation.

The rescue of the pair off a Milne Bay island last week ended an almost 4,000 kilometer (2,400 mile) drift from Samoa.

The ordeal for the four fishermen -- Lapahele Sopi, 36; Telea Pa‘a, 27; Tofi Lauvi, 42 and To‘o Ioani, 59 -- began on June 28.

Survivor Mr. Sopi said the four had been out fishing and had caught too much fish in their 25-foot twin-hulled aluminum boat powered by two 50 horsepower outboard motors.

Their boat started taking in water so they threw out some of the fish and unhitched the two motors to lighten the boat to stop it from sinking. That left them vulnerable and at the mercy of the ocean currents that swept them to open seas.

Mr. Sopi said they lived on the fish they had caught and the occasional coconut adrift at sea, rainwater and even salt water during their nearly five-month ordeal.

They sighted and tried attracting ships but they passed too far away to be of help.

Mr. Sopi said 59-year-old To‘o Ioani died after about a month. They kept the body as long as they could but had to ditch it in the sea when it began to decompose. The next oldest, 42-year-old Tofi Lauvi, died a month later.

Mr. Sopi and Mr. Pa‘a hoisted a blue floral calico on their dinghy, which was sighted last Tuesday morning by the crew of the MV Hiwi operating in Milne Bay waters.

Captained by Ian Douglas, the MV Hiwi was traveling from Sobulasi, Normandy Island, to Alotau when the crew saw the blue laplap fluttering in the wind and diverted course to investigate.

Elvie Baloiloi, a passenger, said that after several maneuvers by the boat in rough seas and strong winds, they managed to throw a rope across to the distressed fishermen, which Mr. Sopi secured.

"The really sick one was lying on a hammock and the other one was standing looking over him," said Ms. Baloiloi.

Bu‘ubou villager Lai Luwaina, who also sighted the blue laplap from the hills of his island village, paddled out to the two boats and secured his canoe to the Samoan boat and encouraged those aboard the MV Hiwi to alert the authorities for help.

"I am a Papua New Guinean. You are in Papua New Guinea," Mr. Luwaina told Mr. Sopi in response to queries of where they were.

"After this brief exchange, I climbed aboard and saw the other man. His feet were white; the white of his eyes were showing; his palms were white. I was afraid when I saw him in that condition but gulped down my fears and moved him to the edge of the dinghy near my canoe," Mr. Luwaina said.

He took the two Samoans home and with his family‘s help took care of them at Bu‘ubou village for two days until they were taken to Gulegule Health Center at 6 p.m. on Wednesday.

Mr. Sopi later said: "From this man (Lai Luwaina) I have become born again because my life was lost for nearly six months adrift at sea. This family is my real family. His children are my children. He is my brother like he and I are from one mother and father."

Meanwhile Ms. Baloiloi, after reaching Alotau, reported the matter to the provincial disaster and emergency services at 12 p.m. on Wednesday.

A Papua New Guinea Defense Force Iroquois helicopter tried to evacuate the Samoans but the attempt was aborted because of the lack of landing space worsened by high tide and fading light.

The two Samoans were finally picked up by the Alotau hospital dinghy on Thursday and taken to Alotau, arriving there at 7:30 p.m.

Dr. Barry Kirby, who had gone with the hospital dinghy, told the Post-Courier that the men would recover.

"One of the survivors is doing quite well. He has not lost much muscle mass at all," Dr. Kirby said.

"But the other survivor has lost a bit of muscle mass. He has basically been in a starvation-type diet for possibly a couple of months, so he has been metabolizing his own muscles -- cannibalizing his own muscles actually.

"He’s on the mend now. He’s conscious. He’s alert. He’s got good brain function. It’s just that he can’t walk because he has lost a lot of muscle."

For additional reports from The Post-Courier, go to PACIFIC ISLANDS REPORT News/Information Links: Newspapers/The Post-Courier (Papua New Guinea).

Pacific Islands News Association (PINA) Website: http://www.pinanius.org 

 

SAMOAN FISHERMEN SURVIVE DRIFT VOYAGE ACROSS SOUTH PACIFIC

By Michael Field

AUCKLAND, New Zealand (November 12, 2001 - Agence France-Presse)--Two Samoan fishermen have survived a remarkable four months adrift in the South Pacific that claimed two others, the Papua New Guinea Post Courier newspaper reported Monday.

The two landed in PNG’s Milne Bay after 132 days at sea, drifting over 4,000 kilometers (2,400 miles) from Samoa.

Their survival, however, is a long way short of the longest known drift voyage, one of six months during World War Two and another in 1992 of 175 days.

The Post Courier said the ordeal for the four fishermen -- Lapahele Sopi, 36; Telea Pa’a, 27; Tofi Lauvi, 42 and To’o Ioani 59 -- began on June 28.

Sopi, who with Pa’a survived, said the four had been out fishing and had caught too much fish in their eight-meter (26-foot) twin-hulled aluminum boat powered by two outboard motors.

Their dinghy started taking in water and they threw out some of the fish and unhitched the two motors to lighten the dinghy to stop it from sinking.

Sopi said they lived on the fish they had caught and the occasional coconut adrift at sea, rainwater and even salt water.

They sighted and tried attracting ships but they passed too far away to be of help.

Sopi said To’o Ioani died after about a month. They kept the body as long as they could but had to ditch it in the sea when it began to decompose. Tofi Lauvi died a month later.

The boat with the two survivors was sighted last Tuesday by the PNG ship Hiwi operating in Milne Bay at the eastern tip of PNG. It sighted a blue lavalava (cotton skirt) flown by the boat.

The lavalava was also seen by villager Lai Luwaina, who paddled out to them.

"I am a Papua New Guinean. You are in Papua New Guinea," Luwaina told Sopi in response to queries of where they were.

"After this brief exchange, I climbed aboard and saw the other man. His feet were white; the white of his eyes were showing; his palms were white. I was afraid when I saw him in that condition but gulped down my fears and moved him to the edge of the dinghy near my canoe," Luwaina said.

He took the two Samoans home and with his family’s help took care of them at Bu’ubou village for two days until they were taken to Gulegule Health Centre at 6 p.m. on Wednesday.

Sopi later said: "From this man (Lai Luwaina) I have become born again because my life was lost for nearly six months adrift at sea. This family is my real family. His children are my children. He is my brother like he and I are from one mother and father."

Given the immensity of the Pacific such remarkably survival stories have occurred now and again.

The Guinness Book of Records used to list the longest survival voyage as that of a Chinese steward, Boon Lim, who survived aboard a raft for 133 days during World War Two after his ship was torpedoed.

But in Kiribati the story of Nabetari has long been celebrated. He was a prisoner on Banaba (then Ocean Island in the then Gilbert Islands) when he took a canoe and escaped from Japanese occupation. He ended up in PNG six months later.

In 1992, two Kiribati fishermen, from Nabetari’s original home atoll of Nikunau, drifted for 175 days, before coming ashore on the eastern end of Samoa.

They put their survival down to finding a Korean hard-hat drifting on the ocean; they used it to collect fresh water.

The latest drift survivors had the bad luck to miss a host of islands between Samoa and PNG, including the French territory of Wallis and Futuna, Fiji, Vanuatu and the Solomons.

Michael Field New Zealand/South Pacific Correspondent Agence France-Presse E-mail: afp.nz@clear.net.nz  Phone: (64 21) 688438 Fax: (64 21) 694035 Website: http://www.afp.com/english/  Website: http://www.michaelfield.org

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